Kosher Wine 101 – What makes a wine kosher or What is kosher wine?
A friend of mine recently asked me to write or cobble together a quick and concise piece on what makes a wine Kosher? Having written about kosher wine and food on my blog, one would think that it should be pretty easy. Truth be told, I have wanted to write this article for some time and have always stopped myself for one reason or the other. However, all those reasons receded into a pitch-black corner of my mind when a colleague of mine at work asked me the very same question that hundreds before him have asked, and the topic for today’s subject matter; namely, what makes a wine Kosher? In hindsight this article is being written purely for self-preservation. You see, if I have to hear another person ask me that question, I may well hang myself – so here is my best attempt to quench the thirst of all who crave to understand the insanity of the kosher wine world.
A quick heads up, I am an Orthodox Sabbath observant Jew, who is also an oenophile and a wannabe foodie, who consumes solely kosher wine and has never tasted from the forbidden fruit (or its juice). Now that we have dispensed with the formalities and introductions, let’s get down to business. The answer is capable of being dispensed in a single sentence. Kosher wine is wine that has been produced, handled, and supervised from the beginning by Orthodox Sabbath Observant Jews and contains only kosher ingredients – PERIOD! For a wine to be certified as kosher by anyone of the kosher supervisory agencies, the individual who handles the wine has to be Jewish and observant. The level of observance that is required by the kosher certifying agencies includes; keeping kosher, observance of the Sabbath, etc.
So yes, the famous Château Lafite Rothschild or the famous Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) could be manufactured in a kosher manner, but it is just not in the cards for a multitude of reasons, many of which we will get to in the post. Finally, if anyone screams out – what about mevushal – I will personally drop kick him or her! Seriously guys, wine does not need to be boiled to make it Kosher – again PERIOD! Please stay tuned for more on the fascinating topic of mevushal.
There you go, sweet and simple, please drive home safely, and thanks for attending the lecture. What is that you say? You need another 500+ words more to make this a worthy post, OOPS! My bad please come and hang on to your seats, because this is about to become very long AND bumpy! Funny thing though, is that the rule from above will never change, it will just grow to encompass more and more facts than you can ever imagine, but heck you asked for it :-)
A slight disclaimer, I am an Orthodox Sabbath observant Jew but not a Rabbi. This is my understanding of the laws of kosher wine based upon my own knowledge, research, and information gleaned from wine makers and Rabbis. The facts that I express here are part based on what most of the leading kosher supervision organizations practice, and part based on the practices of mainstream Orthodox Jewish communities around the world.
To truly get this all to work we need to start at the beginning – what is wine and where does it come from? You see the kosher rules start as far back as the vineyard. So if you were to ask the simple question what is entailed in making wine, the answer would be:
- Grapes and the vineyard
- The ingredients one adds to wine, other than the grapes
- The process of making the wine, from the picking of the grapes all the way to the bottling
Jewish Vineyard Laws
The law of Orlah pertains to the land of Israel and the Diaspora, and simply put means that after planting the vine (or any other fruit bearing tree), you are not allowed to make use of the fruit that grows for the first three years. A partial value of the fruit from the fourth year is redeemed unto a coin, like that of Masaser and Terumah explained below, and then the fruit is fine to consume. The fruit of the fifth year and on is free of any issues, other than the issues listed below, Shmita, Termuah, and Maaser. On an aside, this is a practice that is followed for non-ritual reasons by many quality vineyards where the producers simply understand that immature grapevines don’t make the best wine.
The law of Shmita is rather complex and thankfully only pertains to the land of Israel. However, being that Israel is either the largest or close to the largest producer of Kosher Wine in the world, it causes an issue every seven years. You see, the law of Shmita states that every 7th year, you will not sow or help grow anything in the land of Israel. Being that Israel has been a land of Agriculture since its upbringing, that pretty much means that Jews in Israel are at a competitive disadvantage every 7 years to the rest of the agricultural world. Imagine trying to keep a long-term agriculture contract with a McDonald or Kraft food knowing that every 7 years they will need to go find another supplier! Still God put it as one of the essential laws of the land of Israel, and one that Jews have been trying to work around since its very initiation.
Kosher wine from Israel is an exploding business, and a large part of that business is selling the wine to the Diaspora – up to 25% for some wineries, and for other wineries that number is even higher. The problem is that the American Kosher supervisory organizations, such as the OK, OU, and Star K, do not approve of kosher wines from Israel produced during a shmita year. So that means that the importers of these wines have two choices, either skip the 2001 and 2008 vintages (the past two Shmita years) or import the wine without any visible kosher symbol that an American Jew would understand. There are of course Israeli kosher supervisory organizations on the bottle/label, but not ones that anyone in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, or Chicago would know. On an aside, and a clear proof that God has a great sense of humor, the 2001 and 2008 vintages are two of the best vintages to come out of Israel in its nascent wine history!
Recently, we have seen many wines from Israel’s 2008 vintage hitting our shores, how can they sell them here? That goes to the matter of the two loopholes that are being used in Israel to manufacture Shmita wines, and any fruit for that matter. There is the simple and direct – Heter Mechira, translated to permissible selling. Put simply, the winery sells the vineyard or orchard to a non-Jew and buys the fruit back from him/her, and then at the end of the year, buys the orchard or vineyard back. Yes, a clear loophole around the ancient law, but one that was done for a multitude of reasons. Still, many in the Orthodox communities of Israel do not make use of this loophole. For those of you at home who are counting; the esteemed Yoda would respond, “No, there is another”, it is called Otzar Beit Din, loosely translated as Treasure/Auspices of a rabbinical court. It is the system of record for the majority of Orthodox Jews in Israel, and has been in use dating as far back as the Talmudic times (some 2000+ years ago). Under an Otzar Beit Din, a community rabbinical court supervises harvesting by hiring workers to harvest, store, and distribute food to the community. Members of the community pay the rabbinical court, but this payment represents only a contribution for services, and not a purchase or sale of the food. Still, while the Jews in Israel accept it, the OK, OU and other in the Diaspora do not.
A logical question that one may ask is; why would an Israeli Orthodox supervisory organization accept Otzar Beit Din but not an American kosher supervisory organization? The answer is far too complex to fit in this article, but suffice it to say that without accepting this loophole the almost 1 million orthodox Jews in Israel would be without fruits and vegetables throughout the year. Sure one could buy all the fruits and vegetables from Israel’s non-Jewish neighbors and the rest of the world, but that would cause huge spikes in the cost of food and just add to the tension in the area. This is NOT a concern here in the Diaspora, as stated previously, so the loophole is not as accepted here in America. In no way is this quick answer a slight to the shmita law, again, the subject matter it is far more complex than what could fit in this post or this entire web site. Rather, it is a boiled down reality of our times and nothing more than that.
What we are left with is wines being produced in Israel during the Shmita years using either Heter Mechira or Otzar Beit Din, all of them without an American known supervision, and yet they are making their way to the Diaspora shores. I have been to kosher stores all around America, and barring a few, none of them call out the fact that the wine has NO American supervision on them. Some wine stores are better than others, but the vast majority of them state nothing, and when I bring up the issue, they are shocked themselves!
To be fair the importers find themselves in a unique situation. Wine shops and kosher supermarkets want kosher wine, and the 2008 vintage happens to be a very good one. Royal Wines, owner of Herzog Cellars, and largest importer of Israeli wine, does not import ANY wines from the 2008 vintage. Instead they focus on filling the Diaspora’s need with the 2007 and 2009 vintages.
The aspect of this conundrum that is a real concern is the label. The bottles have no American kosher supervision and the yet the bottle labels have not been updated to notify the American kosher consumer of this potential issue. If the consumer wants to buy a bottle of imported Shmita wine, they get no technical cue from the label. It is the same label they have seen gracing the wine they like for years.
In the end it is up to the consumer to decide whether or not they think the existing supervision is sufficient, yet, on the average, the label, bottle, store, or importer is not notifying them. Personally, I drink Shmita wine that is produced under the auspices of Otzar Beit Din, such as wines from Yarden and Dalton, while some of my friends and acquaintances do not. Yet others drink any Shmita wine. I recommend that you ask your local area Rabbi for the correct direction that you and your family should be taking.
Maaser and Terumah
If we have not lost you all yet, I am sure this one will do the trick! Maaser and Terumah, during ancient times, were systems of tithing, charity, and giving to the poor, all baked into an agricultural economic system. Now a days, it is handled by the kosher authorities and is nothing more than a formality that needs to be done, but does not affect the vineyard or the wineries in any way. The fruit that would have gone to the poor, Levites, or Priests (Cohen), are transferred to a separate financial instrument, coin in our times, and the fruit is free to be used. This transfer mechanism is cited in the Torah and the Talmud, and was used by large industrial companies, or by landowners with too much fruit to transfer by hand or in-person.
If you have not heard of Alice Feiring, look her up, or Google her, as she is a fascinating person. She is an acclaimed wine critic, wine writer, a woman with a crazy good palate, and the present day Joan of Arc on the crusade for all things natural in wine. To her everything that a wine maker adds to wine, other than grapes, is a sacrilege, and is punishable by her pen. However, the real world of wine making, good or bad, uses at least some, more, or all of these ingredients to stave off nasty bacteria, stabilize wine, and/or preserve it:
- Sodium or (Potassium) Metabisulfite (no issues)
- Potassium Metabisulfite
- Campden Tablets
- Yeast and Yeast Nutrients (very serious Passover issues)
- Acid blends (serious kosher and Passover issues)
- Sugar (available in kosher)
- Water (no issues)
- Tannin (available in kosher)
- Fining agents(some of these have serious kosher issues)
- Bentonite (available in kosher)
- Casein (which is derived from dairy products – not good for kosher wine)
- Kieselsol and Chitosan (Sold as a pair both positive/negative charged Chitosan is fish based)
- Isinglass (Extracted from swim bladders of Sturgeon, though some say it is still kosher)
- Gelatin (again questionably kosher)
- Egg Whites (kosher)
Most of the issues revolving around wine additives lead to the religious address known as Passover, with a couple leading to far more murky and scary locales! Wine can be Kosher to drink while still not being Kosher for Passover. The inverse is impossible, as Kosher for Passover wines are innately kosher all year round.
Passover is a more complex Jewish problem because of two reasons. The first one is that on Passover Jews cannot “own” leavened products, or leavening agents that are sourced from the five grains (wheat, spelt, barley, rye, and oat). This may seem unimportant to many of us, but as we will see soon, it matters greatly to the kosher wine makers.
The second problem is far more encompassing and the one that I believe garners it the bogeyman award – Kitniyos. This law states that food substances that look like the five grains and from which leavening can occur think rice, corn, lentils, beans, and such, are not to be consumed on Passover. Again, many would not even give more than a moment’s thought on this subject, but they would be deadly wrong, as they have forgotten about the all mighty maize (aka corn). You see corn and corn syrup has become the new legal crack of our generation. It has been dumped into anything and everything that needs a flavor or sweetness boost. Why? What was so wrong with sugar? The answer is the other crack that drives our country, the all mighty dollar (though not so mighty now a days). For now corn syrup continues to be less expensive than sugar, and so it continues to drive the food business. Except that the vast majority of Jews in America do not eat corn for eight days each year, while the Sephardic Jews bask in the light of rice, corn, and quinoa, as they never took on this stringency.
Armed with this information, one can quickly deduce that if they want to make a wine that is consumable for all Jews all year round, they need to do a bit more work to get around the extra Passover laws. Do not forget that the majority of ALL kosher wine sold in this country happens before the Jewish New Year and Passover. This is why most kosher wine happens to also be kosher for Passover.
Of all the ingredients listed above, the one that should leap out at you is – yeast, as it is the definition of a leavening agent. To fix this problem people created Kosher for Passover yeasts and yeast nutrients (sourced from the yeast walls); they just cost more, like all Passover products.
The next problematic ingredient is the Acid Blends. They are most often a combination of Tartaric Acid, Citric Acid, and Malic Acid. Until recently it was hard to get kosher Tartaric acid given the way it is produced, but that seems to be easier now. Citric acid has Passover issues, given that it can be extracted from corn. Finally, Malic acid seems to be available. Sugar is OK if you use sugar! Liquid tannin turns out to be easy to get in kosher format as well. Finally, the fining agents are a serious kosher problem! Bentonite and egg whites are the simplest way to go for kosher wines, while also being a fine pairing, as they are polar opposites. All the other options are either not kosher or questionably kosher because of the manner they are produced.
NOTE: There are a few wines that add in corn syrup and the like, and are of course NOT Kosher for Passover. For example a few of the Manischewitz wines are not kosher for Passover, along with a few other wineries. So please CHECK the bottle for an OU-P or an OK-P before you use it on Passover. Come on, did you really think you would make it through a Kosher wine article without bringing up the proverbial Manischewitz wine company?
The Wine Process
Ask most people about kosher wine and this is what they will always come back to – the wine making process. So what are the issues involved in wine making? Essentially everything. Wine making is a science for sure, but it is just as much part art. From the moment the grapes are brought to the winery’s premises, only Orthodox Sabbath observant Jews can touch the must, juice, wine, barrels, open bottles, etc. This can get complicated and can be painful, especially when the wine maker or owners are not Jewish or Orthodox Jews. However, invariably, throughout my travels to kosher wineries around the world, I hear the same story to a tee. The Rabbis and Orthodox supervisors are an integral part of the winery. They clean the vats, they crush the grapes, they press the must, they stabilize the wine, they pump it into vats or into barrels, they rack the wine, they do everything that involves wine – period! Essentially, they are the winery, so what is the problem with that? Some non-kosher wineries in Israel explain that they need to be able to touch the wine, feel it, and taste it, so that they can make the best wine possible. The funny thing is that there are MANY wonderful kosher wineries where the wine maker is not only not Orthodox, they are not even Jewish, and yet the winery continues to pump out world-class wine. Victor Schoenfeld is a world-class wine maker for the best kosher winery in Israel; Yarden Winery, and yet he does not touch the wine. How can that be? Simple, when he wants to taste some wine from a barrel, he asks the mashgiach (Orthodox supervisory personnel) to get him some. This is not a complex issue. The personnel that interacts with the wine are Orthodox Jews, and are always around to get some wine from a barrel or vat, and setup the tastings for the wine makers.
To be fair, a second work hand that is also Orthodox comes at an expense for a sole proprietor (boutique) winery. It is for this reason that small wineries in Israel with a single proprietor / wine maker / cellar rat, who is not Orthodox, will not make kosher wine. As the winery grows and adds more hands to handle the larger bottle production, it has a decision to make. Should the Israeli winery add a kosher supervision or not? The numbers of hands, above the owner or proprietor, do not change; they just get exchanged with Orthodox workers. What does change is the extra cost of the kosher supervision. Do not think for a moment that kosher supervision of ANY sort is free. In the end if a winery anywhere in the world becomes kosher, it is a business decision, unless the proprietor is already and Orthodox Jew himself, and even then there is still the cost of the oversight from the supervisory organization.
So where does this thing called Mevushal come from? Loosely translated, it means boiled. Simply put, it allows anyone to touch the wine after it has been boiled or flash pasteurized. However, it is NOT required to make a wine Kosher and it CANNOT make a non-Kosher wine Kosher. So what can it do? It can allow the non-Jewish wine maker to enter the barrel room, open a barrel, and get a sample of wine out for a tasting, after it has gone through the mevushal process. It can also allow the non Sabbath Observant person to pour the wine and touch the wine, which cannot be done with non-mevushal wine.
The other question I get often get when discussing mevushal is, does the process ruin the wine? Well based upon anecdotal data many believe that the correct answer is – it depends upon who does the process and when they do it. Herzog Winery and Hagafen Wine Cellars have a long track record of successfully creating wine that can last for years even after having been mevushaled. The rest seem to fail because they mevushal the wine at bottling time, which is pure suicide. The safest time to do the mevushal process is while it is still wine must. Many wineries in France “boil” their must, as it supposedly removes unwanted green flavors that come from the French terroir.
With all that said and done, I use a simple rule of thumb that Dr. Daniel Rogov advises (the leading wine critic of Israel and kosher wine as well) drink mevushal wine 6-12 months from the time of bottling. After that, red wines start showing pronounced cooked fruit flavors; while white wines just go belly up. Again, Herzog, Hagafen, and some Welner wines last longer than 12 months, but for all other mevushal wines, please follow the 6-12 month rule.
Beyond the human interaction, kosher wine producers must be wary of the compound used to seal a barrel and the glue used in composite corks. Further a kosher winery must carefully clean down a bottling line before they can use it to bottle their wines. Finally there is the extra concern around the labeling; including the need to make sure the proper supervisory organization symbols are correctly printed!
Kosher Wine is a pain in the behind to make and keep Kosher, but that does not stop wineries from making some exquisite wines that just happen to be Kosher!
Kosher Wine bottle edict
If you have kept with me this far I think it is only fair to bring this whole subject back full circle. If the wine is mevushal, there are no problems, anyone can open the bottle, pour it, or touch the opened bottle. Also, anyone can touch a person’s glass with the mevushal wine in it.
A bottle of non-mevushal kosher wine that is corked and sealed with a closure, yes those annoying little dollops of wax on top of the cork also act as a closure, stays kosher. The state of kosher for a bottle of wine does not change as long as it stays sealed the way you bought it. Once it is opened, the game is afoot! and the open bottle and wine can only be handled by a Sabbath observant Jew.
Some say that information is king but in the end it is all about the scores and the wines. So to fill that need, I have compiled a list of mevushal and non-mevushal wines that I have tasted these past few years. You can always fine more wines on my blog or on Daniel’s wine forum:
2006 Herzog Merlot, Special Reserve, Alexander Valley (Mevushal) – Score B++ to A-
The nose on this dark garnet to purple colored wine is packed with black fruit, blackberry, raspberry, currant, oak, cherry, chocolate, and tobacco. The mouth on this full bodied wine is soft, rich, and mouth coating from lovely integrated tannin, along with blackberry, currant, and cherry. The mid palate is balanced with acid, rich oak, lovely tannin, and tobacco. The finish is long and spicy with black fruit, raspberry, oak, and tobacco. Drink up.
2006 Hagafen Merlot, Napa Valley (Mevushal) – Score: A-
I remember loving it that night for its classic Hagafen soft yet layered mouth feel, along with rich and ripe black fruit and chocolate.
N.V. Sara Bee Moscato ((Italy, Puglia) (Mevushal) – Score: B++
N.V. Banero Prosecco (Mevushal) – Score: B+
2007 Prix Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Moskowite Ranch: Block 53, Napa Valley (Mevushal) – Score: A-
The nose on this light gold colored wine is popping with honeysuckle, papaya, grapefruit, and pineapple. The mouth on this medium bodied wine has fresh papaya, pineapple, and honeysuckle. The mid palate has bright acidity, oak, and cut grass. The finish is long and layered with bright fruit, oak, and cut grass.
2008 Don Ernesto Vin Gris Rose, Napa Valley (Mevushal) – Score: B+
The nose on this intense rose colored wine, is bright with raspberry, cherry, delightful fresh strawberry aromas, and a bit of floral notes to boot. The mouth on this light to medium bodied wine is refreshing with rich cherry, strawberry, and raspberry. The mid palate is acidic, with a touch of spice. The finish is long and lovely with concentrated red fruit and a touch of tart cherries.
2008 Hagafen Pinot Noir, Napa Valley (Mevushal) – Score: B+ – A-
The nose on this dark ruby colored wine is hopping with cherry, raspberry, kirsch, violet, oak, and smoke. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is filled with raspberry, strawberry, and soft tannins. The mid palate is acidic with oak and light tannins. The finish is long with integrated tannins, acid, spice, pepper, and oak. A nice Pinot Noir that will pair well with lamb and roasted fowl.
2007 Hagafen Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley (96% Cab Franc, 4% Merlot) (Mevushal) – Score: A-
This is Hagafen’s second release of a single varietal Cabernet Franc, the other one being the 1996 vintage. We really loved the 1996 vintage, but this one was even better, though it has been around 10 years since we last tasted it. The nose on this dark garnet to black colored wine showed a bit of floral notes, along with a bunch of rich and ripe raspberry, black cherry, plum, and spicy oak. The mouth on this full bodied wine is filled with plum, raspberry, and black cherry in a concentrated package that keeps coming at you. The mid palate is packed with balancing acidity, tobacco, spicy oak, and nice tannins. The finish is long with chocolate, fig, vanilla, rich ripe fruit, spicy oak, and pepper. Quite a lovely Cabernet Franc that will age well for at least a few more years.
2005 Hagafen Prix Mélange, Napa Valley (Mevushal) – Score: A TOP SCORING Mevushal Wine
This is one of those classical WOW wines, a wine that keeps coming at you from the time that you smell it, through the time that you fully consume it, quite a monster and a joy. The nose on this black colored wine is packed with rich and ripe black fruit, blackberry, plum, cranberry, smoke, bacon, and rich chocolate, an aromatic vapor filled bottle of joy. The mouth on this massive full bodied wine is crammed with layers upon layers of concentrated and rich blackberry, cassis, along with big tannins. The mid palate flows off the mouth and carries the rich and concentrated black fruit, along with an acidic backbone, chocolate, more tannins, and leather. The finish is long with rich fruit, chocolate, leather, and a shake or two of pepper and spice.
Non- Mevushal Wines
2003 Chateau Pontet Canet, Pauillac – Score: A-
The nose on this vibrant dark garnet colored wine is packed with dirty mineral aromas, oak, smoky notes, fig, spice, anise, and red fruit. The mouth on this full bodied wine is full in the mouth with lovely tannin, layers of fruit, crazy extraction, and oak. The mid palate flows off the mouth with oak, crazy nice tannin, lovely extraction, and chocolate. The finish is crazy long with mounds of chocolate, layers of red fruit, and more crazy nice tannin.
2002 Chateau Leoville Poyferre Saint Julien – Score: A-
The nose on this dark garnet colored wine is screaming with sweet oak, candied cherry, ripe raspberry, coffee, dark chocolate. The mouth on this full bodied wine is ripe and full in the mouth with ripe raspberry, cherry, and layered with oak, and more red fruit. The mid palate is balanced with sweet oak, spice, and coffee. The finish is super long with oak, red fruit, chocolate, and ripe raspberry.
2003 Sarget de Gruaud Larose, Saint Julien – Score: B++
The nose on this garnet colored wine is hopping and concentrated with rich mineral, black currant, raspberry, cherry, and oak. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine follows the nose with concentrated with layers of cherry, black currant, and raspberry. The mid palate flows off the mouth and is balanced with coffee, chocolate, acid, and oak. The finish is long with cherry, chocolate, coffee, and red fruit.
2006 Herzog Generation VIII Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, To-Kalon Vineyards – Score: A
We tasted this blockbuster last year, and to be honest, it will probably be the only time we will ever taste this wine. Why? Because it costs around 180 dollars! That said, the wine is well worth it, if you have that kind of cash. Last year’s tasting notes mimic this year’s note – which makes me feel good, but, there is a TON of chocolate on the nose this year. It may have been there last year, but we missed it, if it was.
The nose on this black colored wine is screaming with rich oak, chocolate, black cherry, blackberry, cassis, and rich spice. The mouth on this massive full bodied wine is rich, layered, and mouth coating with tight tannins, chocolate, oak, blackberry, and cassis. The fruit on the mouth is rich and ripe while not being overly ripe to the point of tasting cooked. The mid palate is balanced and flows from the mouth with still bracing tannins, nice acidity, oak, and chocolate. The finish is crazy long with chocolate, rich oak, blackberry, and rich ripe fruit. This is a crazy winner that will be around for at least another 8 years. I hope to have the opportunity to taste it again and again in the coming years at the Herzog Wine Festival.
2008 Covenant Lavan Chardonnay, Napa Valley – Score: A- to A (exactly like in Oxnard)
The nose on this vibrant yellow colored wine is screaming with lychee, green apple, guava, peach, oak, and almonds. The mouth on this full bodied wine is creamy and hopping with butterscotch, apple, peach, and oak. The mid palate is balanced and structured with bracing acidity, spicy oak, oak tannins, and mineral. The finish is long and creamy, with more butterscotch, almonds, oak, peach, and lychee.
2005 Four Gates Chardonnay – Score: A-
We last tasted this wine during a winery visit in 2009 and we loved it even more now. The nose on this gold colored wine is screaming with caramel, butterscotch, butter, straw, apple, peach, apricot, cut grass, lemon, and smoky toasty oak. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich and concentrated with toasty oak, rich full summer fruit, butterscotch, lemon, and peach. The mid palate is balanced and bracing with acid, butter, toasty oak, butterscotch, caramel, and peach. The finish is super long and rich with toasty oak, summer fruit, smoky notes, caramel, nice butterscotch, with a touch and finish of cut grass and hay.
2006 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon (Israel, Galilee, Golan Heights) -Score: Almost A
This wine is not going to sneak up on you – it is more like a combination of a sledge hammer and a two-by-four hitting you right between your eyes. The nose on this massive, complex, and sledge hammer styled wine explodes with super ripe blackberry, raspberry, chocolate, herbs, rich oak, licorice, plum, tobacco, and sweet cedar. The mouth on this massive full bodied wine is now showing softly integrating tannins that give the wine a super lovely mouth feel. Please do not let the lovely mouth feel fool your perception of this wine, it is massive, aggressive, and heavily layered wine with rich ripe blackberry, plum, cassis, and dates. The mid palate is inky black fruit, massive sweet oak, dates, and balancing acid. The finish is super long and spicy, with nice spice, cassis, date, oak, chocolate, tobacco, and still gripping tannins.
2005 Yatir Forest (77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petite Verdot, and 10% Merlot) – Score: A
The nose on this dark garnet to black colored wine is another massive and explosive success by the Yatir Winery. This wine does not have an oak abuse problem, instead it has a rather elegant nose with Blackberry, lovely oak, black plum, ripe fruit, and raspberry. The mouth on this full bodied wine is mouth coating with layers upon layers of blackberry, cranberry, cassis, and candied raspberry. The mid palate flows off the mouth with lovely tannin, oak, and bracing acid. The finish is long with rich black fruit, chocolate, licorice, anise, smoke, and tobacco.
2007 Carmel Mediterranean (37% Carignan, 26% Shiraz , 20% Petit Verdot and 15% Petite Sirah and 2% Viogner) – Score: A-
The nose on this garnet colored wine is filled with plum, cassis, tobacco, sweet oak, chocolate, and vanilla. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is rich with raspberry, cassis, plum, and lovely mouth coating tannins. The mid palate is balanced with good acid and soft almost integrated tannin. The finish is long and lovely with plum, cassis, raspberry, sweet oak, tobacco, and soft tannins.
2007 Capcanes Peraj Ha’abib, Flor de Primavera – Score: A-
The nose on this purple colored wine is exploding with rich black plum, cassis, mocha, sweet oak, and raspberry. The mouth on this full bodied wine is exploding with lovely rich and concentrated fruit, cassis, plum, raspberry, and oak. The mid palate is balanced and flows off the mouth with good acid, oak, tannin, and chocolate. The finish is long and luscious with not yet integrated tannin, black plum, cassis, and chocolate finish. This wine overshadowed its older brother (the 2006) but was much closer to its even older 2005 sibling.
N.V. Four Gates Soirée – Score: A-
This is another wine from Four Gates that needs abundant amounts of air to see its true potential come out to play. This wine starts off with, a Four Gates and Santa Cruz flavor, chicken cherry cola, raspberry, sweet oak, prune/plum, herbaceous, mint, and vanilla. With time, this wine comes out to play with a more expressive nose with deep floral and mineral notes. The mouth of this medium to full bodied wine has spicy and rich oak, chicken cherry cola, plum, raspberry, layered and structured with red fruit dominating. The mid palate is acid packed with more playful tannins. The finish is super long and layered with oak, coffee, plum, and vanilla. With more time the mouth fills out as the tannins calm down and round out the mouth, along with rich oak, black cherry, raspberry, plum, dates, and herbs. The finish is super long with more plum, spice, rich oak, and coffee. This wine starts off quiet and builds with time, until it hits its stride with ripe red fruit, structure, mouth feel, lovely tannins, and bracing acid that keeps the wine balanced yet striking. This is a wine that needs time. Open it and taste, then let it sit for two hours and taste again, and then try it another three hours later and see what you get.
2006 Four Gates Frere Robaire – Score: A- to A
This wine is still young and needs time, but one worth the effort. To start the wine has black notes of blackberry, dark plum, rich oak, chocolate, with hints of orange and vanilla. The nose is subtle yet rich. The mouth of this full bodied wine is a tight wine to start with dark plum, not yet integrated tannins, oak, and cherry. The mid palate is bracing with with acid, oak, and chocolate. The finish is super long and lingering with tannin, chocolate, cherry, and plum. After more time the wine wakes up and explodes with heavy tannin and more bright red fruit, over time the wine returns to its roots with a super rich mouth feel, chocolate, and ripe red and black fruit.